Love Undertaken: History

Love Undertaken is classified as one of Alan Ayckbourn's Grey Plays. These are plays which are acknowledged miscellaneous minor pieces by Alan Ayckbourn, which have received limited performance but have never been published, are not available for production and are not included in the official canon of Ayckbourn plays.

Alan Ayckbourn received his first professional commission as a playwright in 1959, whilst working at the
Library Theatre, Scarborough. Between then and his departure to the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent in 1962, Alan wrote not only plays for the professional Studio Theatre company at the Library Theatre, but also several plays for amateur dramatic societies in the town; some of which were produced, some not.

Of these plays, only three are known to have definitely been produced:
Double Hitch, Follow The Lover and Love Undertaken. The former two plays have been on record for many years as having been written by Alan and produced, but details concerning Love Undertaken only came to light in 2008. Alan Ayckbourn tended not to keep copies of his early plays and puts little weight on them today. With the exception of plays professionally produced prior to 1962, details of his early writing has generally been lost, is very scarce or, in the case of Love Undertaken, the entire play forgotten.

No record of
Love Undertaken - either as a manuscript or a production - existed in the Ayckbourn Archive or The Bob Watson Archive at the Stephen Joseph Theatre prior to 2008. In the wake of the publicity surrounding the discovery of Alan Ayckbourn's second full length play, Love After All, in 2007, a copy of Love Undertaken was brought to the attention of Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist by someone who had performed in the second (and probably final) production of the play circa 1961. Although the manuscript was not complete, the playwright was able to authenticate the manuscript as one of Alan's one act plays originally written for Scarborough Theatre Guild.

As a result of this discovery, research was subsequently carried out at the British Library for any record of public performances of the play (until 1968, the Lord Chamberlain's office had to approve any new play for public performance). The card catalogue at the British Library confirmed details of a license being issued for the first production of the play in Scarborough in 1961 and that a complete copy of the manuscript was held by the British Library.

As a result of this research and with the help of Alan Ayckbourn, the history of the play became clear.
Love Undertaken was written, in all probability, in the latter half of 1961 and was first produced by Scarborough Theatre Guild. The play was first performed at St Mary's Parish House, Scarborough, in October 1961; this date being deduced from the Lord Chamberlain's Office issuing the play a performance license on 4 October 1961. The original production was directed by Ken Boden, general manager of the Library Theatre in Scarborough, and featured Alan Ayckbourn in the lead role of Henry. No other details of this production are known.

A second - and presumably final - production was also performed, probably also in late 1961 but this cannot be verified. Cresta Players, another Scarborough-based amateur dramatic society, was looking for a play to produce at a forthcoming drama festival and - having no success - turned to Alan Ayckbourn for help. The playwright recalls giving permission for the company to perform his most recently written one act play,
Love Undertaken. Cresta subsequently produced the play at an amateur drama festival in Hull and the cast included Colin Scott, Fred Bishop and Jane Young. Unfortunately no other details of this production are known to exist and neither the date of performance and venue can currently be ascertained with any certainty.

The actual manuscript is credited to Roland Allen - the pseudonym Alan Ayckbourn wrote under between 1959 and 1961 - and there is believed to be only one complete manuscript in existence, which is held by the British Library. The play is a one act comedy for five people (two male / three female) and centres on a clandestine relationship taking place in an undertaker's parlour.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.